Jersey tossed on the ice is sign of the times for troubled Canucks

Vancouver Canucks head coach Travis Green stands on the bench behind Elias Pettersson (40), of Sweden, and Alex Chiasson (39) during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Vancouver, on Saturday, December 4, 2021. (Darryl Dyck/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

VANCOUVER -- If the Vancouver Canucks jersey that landed on the ice in protest late Saturday night came attached with a note, hopefully the fan who disavowed their team would have explained: “It’s not you, Bo, it’s everyone.”

The jersey had captain Bo Horvat’s name on it, and it was scooped up from the ice at Rogers Arena quickly and respectfully by Pittsburgh Penguins defenceman Brian Dumoulin, who returned it over the glass where it was claimed by a fan still willing to wear Canuck colours.

There are still plenty of those. But many who kept their shirts on still booed the home team towards the end of 4-1 loss to the Penguins, who outshot Vancouver 44-23 and extinguished what little momentum the Canucks generated this week by finishing a road trip with wins in Montreal and Ottawa against teams that are even worse than they are.

The trend of fans throwing away their jerseys is horrifying to every National Hockey League team, and was evidence Saturday that the unrest in Canucks Nation spills beyond just general manager Jim Benning and owner Francesco Aquilini.

“Not a good one, obviously,” Canucks winger Tyler Motte said when asked about the feeling of being jeered at home. “(But) the only way to get past this is to get through it. We've . . . got to continue to look ourselves in the mirror and find a way to be better because we owe it to more people than just ourselves.”

Later, he added: “We heard the frustration from the fans tonight. And again, we look ourselves a mirror and find a way, because we do owe it to more people than just ourselves to put a better product together.”

Horvat, fed to the media more than any other player to explain the Canucks’ spectacular shortcomings this season, said simply: “Fans want wins, and we're not giving it to them.”

As a consequence, a significant number of fans with tickets, those who devote their time and actual money to the Canucks, again chanted “Fire Benning!” during the third period.

Twenty-five games into the season -- nearly one-third of the way through a schedule that was supposed to take them through a playoff race -- the Canucks are 8-15-2.

They used a new application of an old method for losing to tumble for the second time in 11 days to a far-superior Penguins team.

The Canucks’ league-worst penalty killing failed them again, but this time it never really had a chance when Motte, Tyler Myers and Tucker Poolman took penalties -- perhaps unwarranted, definitely unwise and unlucky -- in a span of less than two minutes late in the second period.

On consecutive five-on-three advantages, Penguin sniper Jake Guentzel rocketed in shots 70 seconds apart off Canucks defencemen Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Luke Schenn, who had the misfortune to be on the ice instead of the penalty box.

Guentzel, whose hat trick began with another friendly ricochet at 2:19 of the second period, turned a 1-1 game into a two-goal Penguins lead that the Canucks never looked capable of threatening.

“At the end of the day, it's cost us a lot of games and it's been a difference in a lot of hockey games,” Horvat said of a PK which has been DOA in at least half of Vancouver’s games. “And it was a difference again there tonight.

“We were still right in it after it was 3-1 and we should have came harder out there in the third. But it's tough when you run into penalty trouble like that. It is deflating when you're playing catchup against a team like that.”

The penalty problems began earlier in the middle period when J.T. Miller managed to take two tripping penalties in fairly harmless situations in just over three minutes. Even more remarkable, the Canucks killed off both disadvantages.

But the numerical disparity in players reached a critical mass – two – after Myers, without a stick, reverted to primal instincts and simply picked up the puck to try to throw it out of the zone at 16:14 with the Canucks under siege following a needless icing by struggling sophomore Nils Hoglander.

The contentious call, and first five-on-three, came 31 seconds later when Motte was whistled for a cross-check in the Pittsburgh end on Kris Letang, who appeared to launch himself towards the glass at first contact.

And just 20 seconds after that, the hapless Poolman desperately swatted a backhand to clear a puck which, on edge, soared beyond earth’s gravitational pull like a NASA space launch. Delay of game.

Guentzel, who has only 12 goals in 10 career games against the Canucks, scored at 17:13 and 18:23.

“When you're already down a guy and it's 200 feet (from your net) with no clear scoring opportunity, I don't think anyone ever really agrees with (the penalty) they take,” Motte said. “But when the player comes up to you after and tells you he's losing an edge on the way down, it's tough. But, obviously, we took too many again tonight. It shifted the game a lot.”

And yet, but for another post clanged by struggling Canuck Elias Pettersson about two minutes before the penalty parade, Vancouver might have led 2-1 in the game despite being outskated and outchanced.

But that’s losing for you. And winning. Each endeavour creates its own inertia, and the science of the this was exemplified Saturday by both teams.

“It feels like a bit of a roller-coaster, for sure,” Motte said. “You feel fairly confident winning the last two. But again, every day's a new day. Especially in the position we've put ourselves in, we've got to be able to come in and find a way to win hockey games, and whether it's 1-0 or 6-5. . . it's comes down to winning hockey games. That's the bottom line.”

The Canucks’ six-game homestand continues Monday against the Los Angeles Kings.

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